Missions & Money: Fundraising FAQ [1]

Part One: Intro & General Questions

Missionaries or ministry workers are often required to raise personal support. You may have been approached. It really is quite mystifying to the layman, I think. Most people have not been in the position of being required (in faith) to raise all the finances needed to be able to work and live. In this multi-part post, I’m hoping I can give you some insight into “our world” as someone who has been on both ends.

My Journey

Just to give some context I’ll briefly share, my journey with raising support as a missionary/ministry worker. (Feel free to just jump down to the questions.) You can read a more about my experience here: What’s the Deal with “Support Raising”?. My first experience raising support was for an eight-week mission trip to Japan just after graduating from university. I needed to raise about $5000 in the span of four months. It seemed impossible—all the Christians I knew were also just students—and I was so stressed out! Somehow God provided that huge sum and I was able to serve alongside my team supporting the local ministry and reaching out to Japanese people.

After that, I worked for a year as an English teacher. Then I came back to Canada and worked part-time partly-funded (by donations) with a parachurch organization as I waited to start an overseas internship with them. My first big season of raising support was in 2016. I was blown away when I discovered I had to raise close on $50,000 in order to serve overseas for the year. The spreadsheet made sense, but I had no idea how I would possibly be able to raise that amount in just 3.5 months (“or your team will go without you!” I was told). I was optimistic at first, often stressed later, and really struggling at the end. But God graciously provided in unexpected ways

When I returned from overseas to serve another internship here in Canada, I had to raise support again—less than before, but in only 6-8 weeks time. I had thought if most of my supporters from the previous year would just continue, it would be quick and easy. Nope. I didn’t finish in time, so I started my assignment a few weeks late. But again, God did provide (in His timing, not mine).

My Current Reality

After that internship, I decided I would sign on with the ministry full time. Part of this commitment was to “forsake all other income,” knowing my livelihood would depend fully on my support team. I’m just now closing in on having 100% of the needed monthly financial support after nearly a year of raising support. I’m so grateful for God’s provision and people’s generosity. As I wrap up this season, I want to take a little time to publicly address so many of these “mysterious” things about support raising in hopes that it will prove helpful to you and those who do it, too.

Questions

I’ll be addressing some questions (or objections) with answers that I hope will give some insight into raising support for missions/ministry work (from here, I’m just going to use the term “missionary” to refer to both. I’ll try to answer as clearly and succinctly as I can.

As previously mentioned, I’ve broken down this article, “Missions and Money: Fundraising FAQ,” into parts, dividing the questions into these categories:

Part One: General Questions [this post]
Part Two: About Money
Part Three: Church, Parachurch & Missions [coming soon]
Part Four: How You Can Respond [coming soon]
Part Five: Common Misconceptions [coming soon]

Again, I’m answering from my own experience (and based on what others in my circle have shared with me about this). I’m no expert, but I’ll do my best to offer some clarity and insight.

Why do you have to raise your own support?

Many missionaries work for an NPO/charity organization. (Although some are commissioned by their church denomination.) Usually this type of Christian organization generates little to no “income” aside from charitable donations. Somebody has to fundraise so that there are financial resources to pay employees, fund ministry projects, pay utilities at the office, etc.

So it generally goes: if you would like to work here, you first have the responsibility to raise the financial support needed for your ministry expenses and employment (in whole or in part). This is generally a difficult task and deters people who are not passionate about the mission.

Aside from making a small team of staff solely responsible for raising funds for the entire ministry, or hiring an outside agency to go door-to-door (at cost to the organization), this is the most practical way the organization can ensure sufficient funding to hire employees.

Is support raising biblical?

The short answer is, yes. If we (missionaries) didn’t think it was a biblical/biblically acceptable ministry model, we would not do it. You can find many places in the bible that speak to this, but I’ll list a few.

  • Jesus and his disciples received financial support (even though he could have miraculously provided for himself!) “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” (Luke 8:1-3)
  • 1 Corinthians 9 – Paul lays out the biblical foundation of why missionaries deserve to be supported. He even cites an Old Testament verse (“You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain”). He clearly states, “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (v. 14).
  • Philippians 4:10-20 – Paul was grateful to the believers for their financial support, but he didn’t ask them to give primarily because of his own needs. He explains, “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account” (v. 17). It was for the giver’s benefit that he invited them to participate in giving to ministry.

These are just a few of many Scriptural supports for raising ministry support. I’ll be writing another post to cover this topic more in depth. When I finish, I’ll post the link **here**.

How is it (support raising) going?

People ask me this all the time. I never quite know how to answer. Often I’m inclined to talk about how I’m feeling about the process which can change in the span of mere minutes. Other times I may talk about the progress in terms of percentage of finances raised. 

You missionary friend may answer you in one of these ways, but it is hard to share with others who are not familiar with the process how it is really going. You may hear “it’s going well,” “it’s a little slow, but okay,” “I’m making progress,” but it is unlikely they will bear their heart to you. They do not want to be seen as unsuccessful, complaining, looking for pity support, or losing hope. They don’t want to give the impression that things are going badly and cause you to be hesitant about supporting them because of it.

But here is the reality: it’s hard. It’s really hard. Most missionaries want to be on the field, not on their laptop following up on emails they sent (for the fourth or fifth time). Much of our time is spent with monotonous tasks, worried that we will be a bother to others, fearing rejection yet determined to finish the task, and frustrated by lack of response/progress. It’s a complex emotional roller-coaster of managing relationships, trying to meet “faith goals” (things we have no control over), and often feeling isolated and discouraged.  Don’t get me wrong, there is lots of good in this season too: God’s provision, spending time with friends, growing in trust and faithfulness, etc. But it is so hard to say all that and be understood properly.

Why can’t you start your ministry work yet? Why do you have to wait until you finish fundraising?

Different organizations have different policies. Right now, my organization generally holds that we must have 100% of our financial support in order to begin our field assignment. This is not what most people probably prefer. (Missionaries don’t sign up because they love fundraising, they would rather be on their mission field.) Though I don’t like it that much either, I do think it’s a good policy and here’s why. Consider the following scenario.

Mindy reaches 75% of needed financial support and is told she can begin her field assignment on a part-time basis while also continuing to raise support. She joyfully jumps into her role and begins ministry work. 

The first few weeks she continues to work on gathering support, but quickly finds herself so busy with ministry work (which she does love to do) that she barely has any time to raise support (which she doesn’t enjoy as much). She worries about getting a short-cheque (not getting paid) but at the same time, she has taken on responsibilities she can’t just drop. Meanwhile, those whom she had reached out to see from her updates that Mindy has begun her ministry work and assume she has enough finances. Even when she does explain that she still needs another 25%, there is not much urgency, as she has already started her field assignment.

Eventually, Mindy’s ministry account is dangerously low/empty/in the red and her supervisor pulls her off the field and reassigns her to support raising. Mindy is stressed about her personal finances, discouraged to have to leave in the middle of ministry work, and frustrated that things didn’t quite work out. She begins the slow process of raising support again, not sure when she’ll be back on the field.

This is a common issue. (And probably somewhat confusing for donors to watch.) The situation becomes even more difficult if Mindy is overseas—it is more difficult to contact people and may not be safe to be talking about ministry while in the host country.

Briefly stated: it is wise to have 100% of the necessary finances before starting the work so that the missionary can fully focus on the field work without having to worry about ministry or personal finances. This is especially important to the longevity of a long-term position. A missionary is also likely to be more effective in raising support when it is his/her full-time assignment.

What does the process look like? What are you doing every day?

The first thing is to come to terms with the whole idea of support raising. Then, do some training (depending on the organization), planning (timeline, travel, goals), and preparation (gathering names and contact info, creating a presentation, etc).

After that, the process is kind of like this:

  • Reach out (send letter, call)
  • Follow up for an appointment (calls, emails, text, social media messages)
  • Continue to follow up until I get a response (it can take multiple attempts via different platforms)
  • Set up an appointment time and date with those who are interested (and perhaps having to reschedule)
  • Meet in person to share about the ministry and invite them to join my support team (this is usually really enjoyable, but maybe a bit nerve-wracking)
  • Follow up after the meeting for a decision about support (many people will not make a decision during the meeting and need time to think about financial support)
  • Continue to follow up until a decision is made
  • If someone pledges financial support, keep tabs on whether it has been submitted, check in/send reminders until it is
  • Send a thank you to each person who met up to hear about the ministry and decided to support financially and/or prayerfully

That is generally what happens with every individual I contact. With churches, the process is similar but often extended due to the process necessary for them to accept missionaries and decide on financial support. (Things like filling out applications, presenting to the pastor, presenting to committee/congregation, committee meetings/discussion, etc.)

Some people are very quick to respond with a yes or no, make their decision in the meeting or within a few days, and submit it immediately. But for the most part, there is a lot of follow up. I often have to call/message someone 2-6 times to get a response.

Please know I’m not trying to fault anyone, I realize there are many reasons for this (primarily busyness or forgetfulness). There are also some people who feel awkward or are not interested and do not reply at all—this actually slows down the process a lot (I cannot assume that a lack of response is a lack of interest.)

And then repeat this process with more and more people (in my case, around 500 people—almost everyone I know), until I absolutely run out of people to ask. Then the focus turns to getting introductions/referral (which I also try to do along the way). 

Why is it taking so long to get all the funding?

First of all, refer to the question above “What does the process look like?” It takes a lot of time to reach out to hundreds of people, get responses, set up and do appointments, etc. I was told to aim for at least ten appointments each week. That is a lot (when you consider all the effort that goes into making an appointment).

The primary reason it can take so so long to get all the funding is that my efforts alone do not necessarily produce results. However diligent, productive, motivated, effective, charismatic, or hard-working I may be, I cannot control how others respond. In a way, it’s like sales: a salesperson can contact a lot of people but have no meetings, or even pitch their product effectively to clients but make no sales. On the other hand, it is absolutely not like sales (because we are not “selling” anything, etc.) because it is actually God who “produces” results.

Only God can ultimately provide all that a missionary needs for his/her work. Responsiveness to contacting, openness to meeting, willingness to give—these are all ways God is at work in other people’s lives. He is preparing the hearts and financial means of others to support the mission. Sometimes He is even directing people to say “no” to my ask, because He is directing their finances elsewhere.

God can provide quickly, but often His timeline is different than ours. (We want to finish quickly!) And so it takes time (sometimes quite a long time) to become fully-funded.

What about a business-as-mission model? Why not just do that instead?

“Business-as mission” is a type of ministry/mission where the worker has external employment or owns a business as a means of (1) obtaining a visa to enter a country, (2) becoming self-sustaining, and (3) doing outreach in their community. Often these missionaries own cafes, run English classes, or so some other suitable work.

This is a very good ministry model, especially in closed countries. The benefits are that the missionary is able to live off the business’ income, legitimize their presence there, and meet local people. The disadvantages are that there is often a start-up cost (and the business may not be profitable), it takes up time, and the missionary will be more accountable to their local authorities/boss/employees/etc. But overall it can be a very effective model.

However, it is not always a viable option. It does take a lot of time, money, and know-how to run a business. The target group of the missionary may not be reachable this way. Running a business may not be necessary for the missionary to obtain entrance to a country or begin their work. Many times in the “business-as-mission” model there is also a need for support raising as well (start up, sustaining an unprofitable business, partial sponsorship, special project funding, etc).

I did a year of mission work overseas and had a student visa—this was much more suitable for the outreach we were doing. Now I work in Canada and this model would not be advantageous.

Local groups in Canada are reaching athletes, youth, university students, children, the marginalized (homeless, prisoners, etc.), indigenous people groups, etc. Engaging in other employment is unnecessary (as we can be legitimately employed by our mission organization) and would take away from investing directly in ministry with our target community.

I’m not doing business-as-mission because God called me to a particular ministry and field, and that is not how we operate. In faith, I have to raise my full support.

Why do you make personal appointments? What about speaking to churches or large groups?

Personal appointments are more personal. I really do care about the people I’m reaching out to. I want to get to know them, build a relationship, care about what is going on in their life and find ways to minister to them, share about my ministry, answer their questions, and issue a personal invitation to them to consider supporting the ministry.

I’m happy to speak to large groups, but it is more work to organize and prepare for and the end result isn’t always as good. When I share with groups, it is very difficult to make personal connections—I try to always collect individuals’ information and hand out my own, but the response rate is usually 0-10%. That’s right! I have gone to a church of about 75 people to present and left with just a few “thank yous” (no contact information, no donations).

It is rare that individuals will commit to supporting the ministry in a group setting. “Every man’s challenge is no man’s challenge.” So in terms of effectiveness, personal invitations to individuals actually tend to result in more financial support than broad invitations to a large group.

Isn’t it more important to give to missionaries who are actually on the field?

*Cue groans of despair from our underappreciated administration department*

Who organizes the training? Who processes donations? Who keeps up our website and online resources? Who creates those resources? Who pulls together everything we need for conferences and has all the detailed accounted for? Who negotiates benefits? Who handles crises overseas?

Without the work of Human Resources, Finance, IT, and the other support/administrative-type roles, ministry organizations could not function. There can only be workers on the field because of all the work they do behind the scenes to recruit, train, process donations, issue paychecks, answer questions, provide resources, and plan, organize and manage projects and more (I’m sure I don’t know the half of it). I’m so thankful for these people who are always there to help me (a field worker) with whatever I need to make ministry possible. They are so important.

If someone in one of these roles approaches you for support, please recognize the great value of the work they do in sending out missionaries and consider supporting them!

Isn’t it more important to give to overseas missions work?

If overseas mission work was always more important and more effective than local missions work, all of our missionaries would have gone overseas already. The point I’m trying to make is, local missionaries also do extremely important work here at home and they do it not because they are unwilling to participate in “better” work overseas, but because they believe that their local ministry is equally valuable.

Even in Canada—a country that traditionally held Christian values but is not increasingly secular—there are people from “unreached people groups” (culturally, ethnically and linguistically distinct groups that lack enough followers of Christ and resources to evangelize their own people) which is a big focus right now. Each local ministry will have a strategic focus: ministry to athletes evangelizes major influences, ministry to university students is equipping the next generation to lead the church, child and youth ministries share Jesus with the “4-14 window” (the ages most Christians come to faith), and so on…

Please refrain from thinking of certain ministries as “less important” just because of the location. Be willing to support both local and overseas work. God is using each one to change lives and through these changed believers impact the world.

What is the most challenging part of raising support?

Personally, I have found the most challenging part to be navigating relationships. The most frustrating thing is a lack of responses from people I contact. And the most hurtful thing is having someone cut me out of their life instead of just letting me know they are not interested. I have been ignored, blocked, and unfriended. That is much worse than a polite “rejection.”

The other challenging thing is to wait on God. I can’t always see what He is doing and why, but He is the one who provides all that I need. I want to control the process and make things happen, so waiting is very difficult sometimes!

Do you enjoy raising support?

I’m learning to! Despite how challenging it is, it can be so good. In what other situation does your company tell you, “Go, connect with all you family, friends, church community, acquaintances from all seasons of your life. Meet up, spend some time together, hear about their life and share what you’re up to. Tell them what God is doing in your life and the vision you have for your ministry. Invite them to share in that with you!”? It has been so wonderful to catch up with so many people I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. I’ve met a lot of new people as well!

Talking about money can get a bit awkward but it doesn’t have to. I have found that most of my meetings with all these people to be so enjoyable and encouraging! Seeing these “support appointments” as an opportunity to minister to those I meet changes the focus from “getting” to “giving.” Although not without it’s difficulties, it can be a really wonderful season.

Up Next…

Here are some questions to be covered in the following post “About Money”:

  • It seems like this missionary is only reaching out to me because they want money. Is this person being nice to be so that I will donate?
  • Why can’t your organization just pay you?
  • Why are you asking others for money? (Shouldn’t you just pray for provision and wait?)
  • Why don’t you get another job and fund yourself? Can’t you donate to your own ministry?
  • Why do you need so much money? (Where does all the money go?)
  • How much are you getting paid?
  • How are you ever going to get all that money?
  • What if you don’t get all the money you need?
  • How is giving monthly different from giving in a lump-sum?
  • Do you only ask Christians to donate?
  • Why not host a fundraising event?
  • How do you get paid?

I hope this post provided satisfactory answers to some of the questions that you have about missions and “support raising.” If your question wasn’t addressed in this post, check the other parts (listed above) or leave a comment!

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